Kasab’s Appeal Adjourned, Could Roll On


English: The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India.

Image via Wikipedia

The Supreme Court Tuesday adjourned Ajmal Kasab’s appeal hearing against a death sentence for his part in the 2008 Mumbai killings.

Mr. Kasab, a Pakistani militant, was caught on closed-circuit video opening fire and throwing grenades inside Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, part of a three-day killing spree in India’s financial capital that led to the deaths of more than 160 people.

He was later apprehended near Chowpatty Beach, the sole member of the 10 Pakistani attackers not to die in a shootout with security forces. After initially pleading not guilty, Mr. Kasab later changed his plea to guilty, and a Mumbai court in 2010 sentenced him to death by hanging.

Court cases involving capital punishment in India can roll on for a long time through the appeals process.

Take the case of three men sentenced to death for their part in the 1991 murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. A court sentenced them to death in 1998, the Supreme Court turned down their appeal in 2000, and last year Indian President Pratibha Patil also refused to overturn the verdict.

But that wasn’t the end of it, although the men appeared to have exhausted all legal avenues. The three men filed a petition to the Madras High Court, which ruled in August to stay the executions, citing procedural delays.

The Supreme Court did not say when it would again take up Mr. Kasab’s appeal, which could take months, or even years, to complete. Mumbai’s High Court threw out his appeal last year, pushing the case up to the Supreme Court. If he loses this stage, he can petition the Supreme Court to review its decision. After that, he can appeal to the president for clemency.

Given the evidence against him from the station’s video footage, and the outrage caused by the attack, it’s unlikely Mr. Kasab’s appeal will succeed, said Amita Singh, professor at the Center for the Study of Law and Governance at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“Kasab committed a serious crime and there is no doubt he will be hanged. There is clear and direct evidence of his involvement. But how soon this will happen still remains unclear,” Ms. Singh said.

Mr. Kasab is in solitary confinement at Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. According to this report by Firstpost, an Indian news service, he’s showing signs of mental disturbance. One recent visitor to the prison, Firstpost reported, saw Mr. Kasab on closed-circuit TV “swinging his head around, like a headbanger in a rock concert.”

Pakistan has acknowledged the gunmen came from Pakistan, where they planned the attacks. But the country has failed to convict the seven militants it has charged in connection with the attack. They include Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a senior commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group blamed by India for the attack.

Pakistani prosecutors argue they need access to Mr. Kasab to complete their cases. Indian officials say they have provided ample evidence to Pakistan to proceed with the cases and have shown public anger over the delays.

A Pakistan judicial commission is expected to travel to Mumbai next month to take depositions from Indian judicial officials that interrogated Mr. Kasab. But India, which believes Pakistan’s state was involved in some way in the attacks, won’t allow them to see Mr. Kasab.

“The Pakistan government has already settled to the Indian position since they are coming despite the Indian government’s denial to allow them access to Kasab,” Ms. Singh said.

Appeal For Support More than 500 slum huts gutted near Ghazipur mandi fire


There was a huge fire today (31st January) at Ghazipur Dairy Farm, near landfill (Delhi-UP border) at 3:00 am early morning. More than 500 slum huts were burnt and about 350 households have lost all their belongings. Though, the fire was controlled by the administration and community members in couple of hours, only half of the slum huts could be saved after the endeavour.

The people living in this area are engaged with waste collection and it is their only source of livelihood. They are being organized with AIKMM (All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh).

With this fire, they have not just lost all their belongings but also need immediate assistance in the form of food, clothes and shelter in this cold season.

We appeal all of you to kindly help them in whatever form you can. There is immediate need for tarpaulin sheets, daris, blankets, winter clothing, food and utensils. We look forward to your assistance.

For more details, Contact : –

Shashi Bhushan Pandit
Mob: 09968413109

http://www.aikmm.org

Condemn Attack on Anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Plant Agitation Leaders and Women Supporters


Attack on Anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Plant Agitation Leaders and Women Supporters

Jan 31st 2012 : The representatives of Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (spearheading the campaign to stop the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant ) Pushparayan and Jesuraj and 20 women accompanying them has been attacked by Goondas(hired thugs) inside Tirunelveli Collecotrate compound on their way to attend talks with the Central Government Expert Panel. The women who tried to offer shield to the PMANE representatives have been beaten up and they are in hospital now. Along with the goondas were local Congress leaders also. The police where moot spectators when the attack happened even after the PMANE representatives had earlier warned about the presence of these Congress personals and goondas to them.It is intresting to note that the Central Government Panel has failed to answer most of the questions raised by the movements own panel and whatever answers given were all unsatisfactory. Moreover the central panel and central government has also refused to meet the movements expert panel and have an open discussion. All this while the Koodankulam Anti Nuclear protest has stood out as a symbol of non-violent protest with no violent action happening from the movement. This move of attacking movement leaders is a strategy of trying to create tension and turn the movement violent. The movement has withdrwan from the talks after the incident which gave clear indications of central governments back door working. Protests are happening in tirunelveli and other southern tamilnadu districts condemning the attacks.

Condemn this attack by sending mails, missed calls and fax to the following address
Prime Minsiters Office
fax – 91-11-23019545 / 91-11-23016857 phone – 91-11-23012312
Chief Minster Tamil Nadu‘s Office
e-mail cmcell@tn.gov.in fax- 91-44-25671441 Phone -91-44-25672345
Indian National Congress Office
fax- 91-11-23017047 Phone – 91-11-23019080

The context of the attack and the talks
This was the fourth round of talks and there have been no indications of the Central Government paying any heed to the concerns raised by PMANE and the people. The fourth round of talks have been happening after a long gap with the previous 3 happening on November 7th and 18th and December 15th. Between December 15th and now the central government has resorted to bullying tactics of filing cases, foreign fund allegations, agressive media campaigns providing money to main stream media etc… In the mean time Manmohan Sigh went to Russia and issued a statement on Dcember 16th that the plant will be commissioned in two weeks time. He visited Tamil Nadu in December end and is said to have struck a deal with the state government on the Koodankulam Issue. The minster of state at the Prime Ministers office has been issuing statemens that the plant will become operational with state government assistance soon. Indication on this regard has been given by representatives of Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited as well. Along with all this Congress has been staging various protests demanding for the opening of the Koodankulam Plant. Meanwhile the protests by the locals in and around Koodankulam and in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu have not subsided at all. Pushparayan and Jesuraj are the two representatives from the movement who are part of the state panel interacting with the Central Government Panel set up to address the concerns of the people and prove that the plant has no impact on local environment, livelihood, health and is safe in all aspects.

Issued By
Koodankulam Anti Nuclear Protest Support Group Kerala -
08547698740, 09847439290, 09447218282

India has the most toxic air: Study


It is official: India has the world’s most toxic air.

In a study by Yale and Columbia Universities, India holds the very last rank among 132 nations in terms of air quality with regard to its effect on human health.

India scored a miniscule 3.73 out of a possible 100 points in the analysis, lagging far behind the next worst performer, Bangladesh, which scored 13.66. In fact, the entire South Asian region fares badly, with Nepal, Pakistan and China taking up the remaining spots in the bottom five of the rankings.

These rankings are part of a wider study to index the nations of the world in terms of their overall environmental performance. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network have brought out the Environment Performance Index rankings every two years since 2006.

In the overall rankings — which takes 22 policy indicators into account — India fared minimally better, but still stuck in the last ten ranks along with environmental laggards such as Iraq, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At the other end of the scale, the European nations of Switzerland, Latvia and Norway captured the top slots in the index.

India’s performance over the last two years was relatively good in sectors such as forests, fisheries, biodiversity and climate change. However, in the case of water — both in terms of the ecosystem effects to water resources and the human health effects of water quality — the Indian performance is very poor.

The Index report was presented at the World Economic Forum currently taking place in Davos, where it’s being pitched as a means to identify the leaders and the laggards on energy and environmental challenges prior to the iconic Rio+20 summit on sustainable development to be held in Brazil this June.

By- Priscilla Jebaraj- The Hindu

Report reveals how untreated hospital waste is endangering New Delhi


By Neetu Chandra

Government hospitals in the Capital are turning a blind eye to the hazards of bio-medical waste by either casually dumping the untreated waste despite expensive incinerators installed at the hospital or outsourcing the work to private agencies.

A report released by the directorate of health services has revealed that the biomedical waste treatment facilities at these hospitals lie unused or underutilised with the work outsourced to private agencies with little or no monitoring of how the hazardous waste is processed.

The report revealed that major hospitals such as Lok Nayak, Guru Teg Bahadur, G.B. Pant and Deen Dayal Upadhyay have failed to comply with the waste management norms despite expensive incinerators installed in the hospitals.

Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of hazardous organic substances contained in waste materials. Hospital waste is hazardous because of the presence of chemicals from medications, solutions, or strains of TB, Hepatitis B and C. Doctors say the pathogens can be harmful for humans as they can be ingested or inhaled and absorbed through skin openings.

The report also reveals that in the past five years five major government hospitals – Rao Tula Ram hospital, Rajan Babu Institute for Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis, Palika Maternity Hospital, Lodhi Colony, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and National Institute of Immunology – have shut down their incinerators owing to technical reasons.

A visit to Lok Nayak hospital by Mail Today revealed that the hospital is dumping needles, syringes, glucose bottles and blood bags inside the premises where the entry is restricted to the employees.

Similar is the case with GTB and DDU Hospital which fail to segregate the hazardous chemical waste and outsource it to a private agency.’The condition in government hospitals is pathetic. Setting up an incinerator costs around `2 crore so the hospitals hire other companies to treat their waste. They have outsourced the facilities which is causing losses to the government,’ an official of the directorate of health services said.

‘These hospitals throw out the waste without segregating it for the private companies to pick up which is generally done by rag pickers and scrap dealers. There is no proof that these agencies are treating the waste properly,’ the official added.

Dumped: These disposable syringes and plasitc tubes were found in a garbage dump outside one city hospital

But the DDU hospital which has an incinerator installed claims that the unit was shut down because of the emissions.

‘The incinerator was proving hazardous due to its emissions so we stopped it. We started giving it to a private agency authorised by the government. We have autoclaves for the treatment of plastics in the waste,’ DDU medical superintendent Dr Promila Gupta said.

The directorate’s findings have been endorsed in a separate report released by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) which says that in the past five years the number of functioning incinerators have come down from 67 to ten.

The report attributes this to lack of proper maintenance and monitoring as the prime reason for the shutting down of the waste processing units which cost more than `2 crore to install.

‘To control pollution and for an efficient waste management, hospitals with 50 beds or more have been directed by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to install solar water heating and rain water harvesting systems as well as incinerators,’ the report said.

The hospitals with 50 or more beds that do not have incinerators are flouting the Bio Medical Waste (Management & handling) Rules, 1998.

The report said the DPCC has issued public notices to several hospitals for flouting the waste disposal guidelines.

more

Delhi Government hospitals are the biggest water polluters, according to review

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink: Vikram Seth


The Speech upon Inaugurating the First Kolkata Literary Meet, 26 January 2012

Thank you very much for inviting me this Republic Day to inaugurate the first Kolkata Literary Meet – or KLM – or (most aptly of all) ‘Kolom’.

By the word ‘kolom’ I imagine we mean not only the pen but also the typewriter and the computer – in other words, any means of writing. The ‘kolom’ represents them all.

I am happy and honoured to be here – in this place, during this year, on this day, for this occasion.

In this place, because I am back where I was born.

During this year, because it is a century and a half since the birth of Tagore.

On this day, because it was today, more than sixty years ago, that we put into effect the book of law by which we as a nation live.

For this occasion, because it celebrates the word not as law but as literature, the expression of ourselves as human beings.

I shall call these the four ‘ko’s, following the Bengali style: Kolkata, Kobi, Constitution, Kolom: the place Kolkata, the year of the Kobi, the day of the Constitution, the occasion of Kolom.

Let me say a few words about each of these.

***

[KOLKATA]

Kolkata is where my life began.

Birth is easy enough. I have no memory of it. Any pain or inconvenience was borne by my mother. I was born in the Elgin Nursing Home – which doesn’t exist any more – at 1.48 in the afternoon. I was called Amit. That is the name that appears on my birth certificate. I have seen the document. It is green in colour.

I was called Amit because when my mother was pregnant with me, her friend Kolyani Bannerji read Tagore’s Shesher Kobita to her and, as you know, the rather wimpish hero of that novel was called Amit. My mother, though from UP, speaks Bengali and loves Bengal. She decided that if I was a boy, I would be called Amit; if a girl, Ameeta.

But my father’s family, who live in Panipat, had different ideas. The first-born son of each brother in the family had to have a name beginning with the syllable ‘Vi’. It was a family tradition. My father’s eldest brother had named his first-born son Vijay. My father’s second brother had named his first-born son Vinod. What was all this Amit nonsense? They vetoed the name and told my parents to think again. The name Amit (written in ink) was crossed out on the green birth certificate and the name Vikram was pencilled in. And since Kolkata is possessive of its children, although I am not Bengali, I have once or twice seen myself referred to in newspapers here not as Vikram, but (I am proud to say) as ‘amader Bikrom’. And I for my part certainly consider this city to be ‘amar Kolkata’.

I am always happy to return here, in fact or in fiction. I spent formative years of my childhood here – on three separate occasions. The parts of A Suitable Boy that I most enjoyed writing were the scenes set in Calcutta, whether it was with the garrulous Chatterji family (I especially enjoyed writing about the shocking Meenakshi), or at the Eden Gardens, where Lata’s three suitors, Kabir, Haresh and – yes – Amit, meet at an India vs England cricket match. In fact, the Bengali translation of A Suitable Boy by Enakshi Chatterjee (I am told it is a very good translation) is called Sot Patro, which of course makes one think immediately of Abol Tabol and the immortal Sukumar Ray, the father of another immortal, Satyajit Ray, who was no mean writer himself.

***

[KOBI]

The thought of authors past leads me back to the second ‘ko’ or ‘Kobi’, whose 150th anniversary we are celebrating and have been celebrating this past year.

One can say many things about him. I will say just three.

The first is this. I apologise to him for the fact that my parents renounced the name of Amit. But since he himself, when asked by parents to name their children for them, saddled so many children with impossible names, I am sure he will be tolerant of our sacrilege.

Secondly, today of all days, when our thoughts turn to where we are going as a country and as a people, it is right that we should think of him, because he was the creator of what – after his death – became our national anthem, an anthem that is intriguing because it is so ambiguous – not only with regard to who exactly is being addressed, but also because it must be the only anthem in the world to end not on a shadaj but on a madhyam – not on certainty and finality but on ambiguity and continuity. Of course the national anthem is only the first of five stanzas of a song. But still, this ambiguity and continuity seem to reflect, at least to me, some aspects of the openness and open-mindedness of the poet himself – who was writing at a time when many people’s views were becoming closed and rigid.

The third point about Tagore has to do with the limits of reverence. I am not now talking about the tendency to revere Tagore himself, which is a mild malady in these parts. No, I’m talking about Tagore’s attitude to someone he himself admired: Gandhi. Tagore may have venerated him and called him the Mahatma, but he disagreed with a lot of what he said – on non-cooperation, for instance; or on modern science; or even on nationalism. He did not let his admiration gag his criticism, sometimes quite strong criticism. Other people disagreed with Gandhi too, some less reverently, some indeed very bitterly. Nehru and Patel disagreed with Gandhi on the question of accepting the inevitability of Partition. Bose disagreed with Gandhi about reserving the option of violence when used against the violence of foreign occupation. Ambedkar disagreed with Gandhi on the question of rights for Dalits, as opposed to pity and accommodation. In some cases, Gandhi used what some would consider unjustified tactics to get his way: a fast against Ambedkar, a boycott of Bose.

I say this because, though most of us may well think of Gandhi as one of the greatest Indians who has ever lived, we can and do criticise him. This highlights a general principle. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. Let me repeat that. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. No one. Whether from the fifth century BC or the first century AD or the seventh century AD or the twentieth century AD. No human being is above criticism.

***

[CONSTITUTION]

This leads straight to the third ‘ko’ of what I wanted to talk about: the Constitution. ‘We the People of India’, in the famous phrase, gave it to ourselves on the 26th of November, but it came into effect two months later on the 26th of January, sixty-two years ago. The day was chosen because twenty years before that, Nehru, on behalf of the Indian National Congress, had declared Complete Independence or Purna Swaraj.

But was this self-rule or independence intended to be limited to independence from foreign occupation? The writers of our Constitution, from Ambedkar on, most assuredly did not think so. It was to be independence from tyranny of all kinds, including tyranny of thought and expression and belief, the tyranny of those who think one should not speak one’s mind. These and other aspirations are embodied in the Preamble, the words that precede the actual Articles of law.

Among its succinct and inspiring words are these:

‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

Liberty is one of four words – the others being Justice, Equality and Fraternity – which are the keys to the Preamble and, indeed, to understanding the Constitution as a whole. So here it is once more: ‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

But let me ask you – not as writers or readers but as plain citizens, as ordinary Indians – Where is this liberty today? Yes, the liberty of faith and worship are alive and kicking, but what about the liberty of thought, expression and belief, those liberties that equally make us what we are and give expression, insight and dignity to our lives? We are opening our gathering here on Republic Day a mere two days after another gathering – based like ours on the word and the freedom of the word, on the mind and the freedom of the mind, on the heart and the freedom of the heart – ended with a disgraceful exhibition of the suppression of the word, the suppression of the mind, the suppression of the heart.

To avoid a gut reaction to particular names, let me present the situation to you without names – as a case study, if you like – so that you can see it in its full absurdity.

One of the most prominent and admired authors of our times was not permitted to appear and address an audience in person – and then, in the strangest twist to the tale – was not permitted even to appear on a screen to address them. No one was going to be compelled to hear him. As it happens, he was not even going to talk about a book of his which had proved controversial, and which had been published more than twenty years ago. Indeed, he had even appeared in person at the very same venue five years ago, and there had been no protest. And yet he could not speak to those who wanted to hear him.

People are not fools. It is election time. Everyone knows the truth. The whole affair was started because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; it was whipped up because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; and the government knuckled under and enforced this disgrace because of power and politics and the misuse of religion.

Frankly, this is madness.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

Neither the bullies who shout nor the bullies who enforce.

We are a constitutional nation, not a religious dictatorship. Unless he or she threatens violence, you do not have the right to gag or bully or dictate to your neighbour – or decide what he or she can say or see or hear.

You do not have the right to go up to the three monkeys and with your own hands cover up their mouths and eyes and ears.

You cannot use the argument of ‘religious morality’ to do this. As Dr Ambedkar said, there is something more important in a republic, and it is known as ‘constitutional morality’.

***

[KOLOM]

I will now go to – or, rather, return to – the fourth ‘ko’ or Kolom. I have touched upon the word in law and literature. But especially when one thinks of Tagore, one also thinks of the word as a graphic form, a form of art. I am very happy that Sunil Gangopadhyay and I – as part of this inauguration – were asked to write the word ‘kolom’ in black paint on those white boards there. As you can see, Sunil Da has written it in Bengali and I have written it in English and Urdu. It is interesting that three of the world’s great civilisations, the Hindu, the Islamic and the Judaeo-Christian, are thus incorporated on those boards, just as they are part of our common discourse. This is the richness of our country; we cannot allow it to be filtered and thinned. This is the strength of our country; we cannot allow it to be contorted or distorted.

Let me end with the two opening lines of a poem by Tagore that I have known – in his own English translation – since I was eleven years old. It was one of our school prayers and it expresses his aspirations for India.

‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free.’

Let me repeat that: ‘Where knowledge is free.’

Those who try to cloud our minds with fear are the enemies of both knowledge and freedom.

We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.

We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink.

Kolome kali jeno na shokaye.

May the kolom flourish.

For Immediate Release India: Prosecute Security Forces for Torture



Recent Abuse Cases Reinforce Need to Enact Prevention of Torture Bill

(New York, January 31, 2012) – The Indian government should prosecute members of the security forces for recent high-profile cases of torture, to send a message that such practices will no longer be tolerated, Human Rights Watch said today.

Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers, long implicated in torture and extrajudicial killings near the border with Bangladesh, were captured in a video posted on YouTube brutally beating a Bangladeshi national caught smuggling cattle in West Bengal state. And the Indian government has awarded a medal to a police superintendant alleged to have ordered the torture and sexual assault of a female schoolteacher in Chhattisgarh state, instead of investigating him.

“These horrific images of torture on video show what rights groups have long documented: that India’s Border Security Force is out of control,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government is well aware of killings and torture at the border, but has never prosecuted the troops responsible. This video provides a clear test case of whether the security forces are above the law in India.”

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch, together with Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a Kolkatta-based nongovernmental organization that posted the video, and Dhaka-based Odhikar, published “‘Trigger Happy’: Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border.” This report documented numerous cases of indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary detention, torture, and killings by the BSF, and highlighted the failure of the Indian government to conduct adequate investigations or prosecute troops responsible for abuses. It showed that the BSF routinely abuses both Bangladeshi and Indian nationals residing in the border area. After the report’s release, the Indian government ordered an end to the use of lethal force cease except in cases of self-defense. While the number of killings decreased, allegations of killings and torture have continued.

The video, reportedly filmed by a BSF soldier, shows members of the BSF’s 105th Battalion stripping a man, a Bangladeshi national later identified as Habibur Rahman Sheikh, tying him up and beating him, while laughing and engaging in verbal abuse. BSF personnel apparently caught Sheikh when he was engaged in smuggling cattle from India into Bangladesh. Instead of handing him over to the police as required by Indian law, they illegally detained and tortured him and then left him to make his way back home.

After MASUM released the video to local news channels, the BSF suspended eight soldiers – Sandip Kumar, Dhananjay Roy, Sunil Kumar Yadav, Suresh Chandra, Anand Kumar, Victor, Amarjyoti, and VirendraTiwari – and ordered an inquiry. However, despite clear evidence of abuse, to date no criminal charges have been filed against any soldiers.

“Whenever offenses attributed to the BSF occur, its leadership insists that there will be an internal inquiry and action taken,” said Ganguly. “But secret proceedings and suspensions or transfers won’t end the abuses. Torture is a serious crime that should be prosecuted in the courts.”

Many people routinely move back and forth across the Indian-Bangladeshi border to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Some engage in criminal activities, such as smuggling. The BSF is charged with intercepting illegal activities, especially narcotics smuggling, human trafficking for sex work, and transporting fake currency and explosives. It is also charged with protecting against violent attacks by militant groups.

The failure of the Indian government to prosecute authorities responsible for torture extends to all of the security forces, Human Rights Watch said. In another recent disturbing incident, Soni Sori, a schoolteacher in Chhattisgarh state, alleged that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Chhattisgarh state police while in custody in October 2011. After her arrest as a suspected Maoist supporter, a criminal court in Chhattisgarh state handed her over to police custody for interrogation despite her pleas that she feared for her safety and life. Sori alleges that Ankit Garg, then-superintendent of police for Dantewada district, ordered the torture and sexual assault. The Indian Supreme Court ordered Sori’s transfer to the Kolkata medical college hospital for an independent medical examination. In November 2011, the examination report corroborated Sori’s allegations of physical abuse.

To date, the Indian authorities have not initiated any inquiry or criminal action against the police officers implicated. Instead of investigating the case, on Republic Day, January 26, 2012, the president of India, Pratibha Patil, presented Ankit Garg with a police medal for gallantry. The medal drew widespread condemnation.

The Indian government announced, in March 2011, a rape compensation package for all sexual assault victims, but even basic follow-up reproductive and sexual health services have yet to be made available to survivors like Soni Sori. One of her lawyers told Human Rights Watch that Sori, who is detained in Raipur central jail in Chhattisgarh, has not received any follow-up reproductive and sexual health care. Her hemoglobin count has dropped considerably and she has complained of reproductive health problems but her lawyer is concerned that she will not receive adequate medical care without obstruction by the Chhattisgarh police. During her stay at the Raipur medical college hospital for medical examination and treatment in October, the Chhattisgarh police forced the doctors to remove her intravenous drip, refusing to let her stay in the hospital.

“Soni Sori’s case epitomizes the callousness with which victims of torture are treated in India,” Ganguly said. “The Indian government shamefully presents a trophy to someone implicated in torture, while doctors cannot even treat a torture survivor without police obstruction.”

Human Rights Watch called upon the Indian government to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to enact the Prevention of Torture bill, which is currently awaiting cabinet approval and before it is voted on by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. The law should override all provisions of Indian law that allow government officials immunity from prosecution for human rights violations. It should also ensure that adequate time is given for victims to be able to file complaints, and that all forms of inhuman and degrading treatment are brought under the purview of the law.

“The BSF, the police, and other members of the security forces operate with impunity throughout India,” said Ganguly. “When will the government in Delhi wake up and act to end torture and other human rights abuses?”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on India, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/asia/india

Congolese women graduate from inaugural rape survival class


By Faith Karimi, CNN

Jan 29 (CNN) — An inaugural group of Congolese women graduated Saturday from a gender violence survivors program in the nation’s east, where armed rebels roam the hills and rape residents.

Eastern Congo residents — including men and boys — have faced brutal rapes for years, with the assailants thrusting chunks of wood and guns into them in some cases.

As part of the program in Bukavu, 180 gender violence survivors took part in activities such as group therapy, dance classes, theater, self-defense and sex education.

The six-month program, called City of Joy, also teaches leadership skills with hopes that the women will help bolster peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Upon their arrival, the faces of these women showed signs of despair, discouragement and loneliness,” said Christine Deschryver, Congo director of the program.

“Over time, they have, little by little, been helped to use their past difficulties as a source of empowerment. … These women have moved from pain to power and will return to their homes ready to help revolutionize their communities.”

The program is run by V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls founded by Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and author of “The Vagina Monologues.”
These women have moved from pain to power and will return to their homes ready to help revolutionize their communities.
Christine Deschryver

Congo’s program was created and developed by women on the ground and provides a platform to turn their pain to power, the group said.

Eastern Congo is vast and poverty-stricken, but rich in resources such as diamonds, timber and copper.

Large parts of the country lack authority, giving government soldiers and homegrown militias free rein to pillage and rape.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health last year reported that 1,152 women — or 48 per hour — are raped daily in Congo, a rate higher than previous estimates by aid agencies.

The eastern region is also a hot spot for the so-called “conflict minerals,” which led the United States to intervene after human rights groups said the resources are used to fund wars in the nation and neighboring countries.

While Congo is among the nations with the largest United Nations peacekeepers, the forces have been ineffective in stopping rapes in the sprawling, remote region.

Stability in Congo — which borders nine countries — is vital to Africa’s Great Lakes area. The eastern region has undermined peace in the nation years after a 1998-2003 conflict left 5 million people dead.

At the time, neighboring nations joined the civil war, arming rebel groups of choice to gain access to the vast resources. Some African soldiers later retreated, but some rebel groups remained and are mostly based in the east.

How bacteria behind serious childhood disease evolve to evade vaccines


London, Jan 30 (ANI): The study of genetics has provided surprising insights into why vaccines used in both the UK and US to combat serious childhood infections can eventually fail.

The study, which investigates how bacteria change their disguise to evade the vaccines, has implications for how future vaccines can be made more effective.

Pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) causes potentially life-threatening diseases including pneumonia and meningitis. Pneumococcal infections are thought to kill around a million young children worldwide each year, though the success of vaccination programmes has led to a dramatic fall in the number of cases in countries such as the UK and US.

These vaccines recognise the bacteria by its polysaccharide, the material found on the outside of the bacterial cell. There are over ninety different kinds or ‘serotypes’ of the bacteria, each with a different polysaccharide coating.

In 2000, the US introduced a pneumococcal vaccine, which targeted seven of the ninety serotypes. This ’7-valent’ vaccine was extremely effective and had a dramatic effect on reducing disease amongst the age groups targeted.

Remarkably, the vaccine has also prevented transmission from young children to adults, resulting in tens of thousands fewer cases of pneumococcal disease each year. The same vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2006 and was similarly successful.

In spite of the success of the vaccine programmes, some pneumococcal strains managed to continue to cause disease by camouflaging themselves from the vaccine.

In research funded by the Wellcome Trust, scientists at the University of Oxford and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta studied what happened after the introduction of this vaccine in the US.

They used the latest genomic techniques combined with epidemiology to understand how different serotypes of the pneumococcus bacteria evolve to replace those targeted by the initial vaccine.

The researchers found bacteria that had evaded the vaccine by swapping the region of the genome responsible for making the polysaccharide coating with the same region from a different serotype, not targeted by the vaccine.

This effectively disguised the bacteria, making it invisible to the vaccine. This exchange of genome regions occurred during a process known as recombination, whereby one of the bacteria replaces a piece of its own DNA with a piece from another bacterial type.

“Imagine that each strain of the pneumococcus bacteria is a class of schoolchildren, all wearing the school uniform. If a boy steals from his corner shop, a policeman – in this case the vaccine – can easily identify which school he belongs to by looking at his uniform. But if the boy swaps his sweater with a friend from another school, the policemen will no longer be able to recognise him and he can escape. This is how the pneumococcus bacteria evade detection by the vaccine,” Rory Bowden, from the University of Oxford, said.

Bowden and his colleagues identified a number of recombined serotypes that had managed to evade the vaccine. One in particular grew in frequency and spread across the US from east to west over several years.

They also showed that during recombination, the bacteria also traded a number of other parts of the genome at the same time, a phenomenon never before observed in natural populations of pneumococcus.

This is of particular concern as recombination involving multiple fragments of DNA allows rapid simultaneous exchange of key regions of the genome within the bug, potentially allowing it to quickly develop antibiotic resistance.

The original 7-valent vaccine in the US has now been replaced by a 13-valent vaccine, which targets thirteen different serotypes, including the particular type which had escaped the original vaccine. In the UK, the 7-valent vaccine resulted in a substantial drop in disease overall.

This overall effect was a mixture of a large drop in frequency of the serotypes targeted by the vaccine with some growth in serotypes not targeted by the vaccine. The 13-valent vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2010.

“Childhood vaccines are very effective at reducing disease and death at a stage in our lives when we are susceptible to serious infections. Understanding what makes a vaccine successful and what can cause it to fail is important. We should now be able to understand better what happens when a pneumococcal vaccine is introduced into a new population. Our work suggests that current strategies for developing new vaccines are largely effective but may not have long term effects that are as successful as hoped,” Derrick Crook, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Oxford and Infection Control Doctor at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, said.

The study has been recently published in Nature Genetics.

Pakistan on path to establish National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)


 

Asis Pacific Forum ( APF Bulletin) January 2012

Pakistan’s National Assembly has unanimously passed a bill to establish an independent human rights institution (NHRI) with wide judicial powers.

The passage of the bill on 21 December 2011 follows years of advocacy from national organisations, with advice and support provided by regional and international organisations, including the APF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Under the bill, the National Commission for Human Rights will have the power to receive and consider complaints. When undertaking inquiries, it will have the powers of a civil court and can summon any individual, public or private department.

A retired judge from the higher judiciary, or any other “eminent person of known integrity, competence and experience,” must head the body, which will include two members from minority communities and one from each province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Islamabad Capital Territory. It will also include three female members.

The commission will have the power to intervene in any proceedings involving alleged violations of human rights, to visit jails nationwide and to appoint special investigation teams of officers from police and other law enforcement agencies.

It will be required to submit an annual report to the federal government which will then be bound to lay it before parliament.

In addition, the commission will have full administrative and financial autonomy and its accounts will be audited by the auditor general of Pakistan. It will be based in Islamabad and may establish offices in provincial headquarters or other places as appropriate.

While supportive of its objectives, members of the Senate have referred the bill to the house committees on human rights and law and justice for review, with a report expected to be presented in late February.

If amendments are made, the Bill will need to be resubmitted to the National Assembly for consideration. Once approved by both houses of parliament, the Bill will require the signature of the President before becoming law.

The APF welcomes this significant progress in establishing a NHRI in Pakistan.

The APF conducted visits to Pakistan in 2005 and 2008 to meet with key stakeholders and has provided technical advice during the drafting of legislation to promote compliance with the Paris Principles.